The term ‘estate planning’ for many people is unknown territory and perceived as simply the writing of a Will. The reality is that anyone who is earning an income or has any assets has a need for some level of estate planning advice.
Even at a young age you may have specific wishes for the way you want your assets divided if something unexpected happens. If you have children, your needs may change and your final wishes may need more sophisticated estate planning consideration.
As your assets grow and you may welcome grandchildren to your family, your needs can become more complex and need a more careful review.
Our expert advice in managing your estate can be invaluable in maintaining family harmony, reducing tax liabilities and making sure your wishes are carried out the way you really want them to be.
Estate planning is more than just making a will
A will helps you express your wishes in a concrete way so that your loved ones avoid uncertainty and legal complications when you die. It is the document which captures your wishes on what will happen to your estate, but, although it is an essential document it is not always a definitive way to manage what you want done with your estate.
Without a will, you leave yourself open to government discretion on how your assets are distributed and how your children are looked after if they are under 18. While the family’s best interests may be considered, the actual outcomes could be very different to what you would personally choose. The lack of a will can cause delays in settling your estate
Who will control your super and life insurance?
Your superannuation and life insurance can be two of the largest assets in your estate, but their distribution upon death is not necessarily covered by your will.
If you own a life insurance policy, proceeds can go into your estate or be apportioned to nominated beneficiaries, depending on how it has been set up. Superannuation death benefits can only be paid to your estate or to ‘dependents’ and in many cases, members’ death benefit nominations are not binding on a super fund trustee. Careful management of how you set up your nominations can avoid trustee discretion to distribute funds.
Ownership structures for better control
Depending on your situation, you may be able to use legal instruments, such as testamentary trusts, discretionary trusts or even a self-managed super fund to more effectively manage distribution and control of assets, rather than simply distributing directly through a will. This is particularly useful if you want to ensure that younger family members are restricted in their use of your assets until they are old enough to deal with them responsibly. They can also be used to prevent the complications that can arise from blended families or estranged family members.
Understanding tax implications and structuring affairs to manage tax can be an important part of estate planning. An asset you leave for one child may be subject to capital gains tax, whereas another asset left for another child may be exempt, unintentionally resulting in different final amounts to each child. Beneficiaries on government assistance may find benefits are affected by inheritance payments.
There can also be tax implications for your superannuation benefits and associated insurance benefits held in your super, depending on how benefits are paid and whether beneficiaries are dependents or non-dependents. All these issues are much better when considered at the planning stage rather than waiting for them to become a problem when it is too late.